[printer friendly version ]


ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 4, Number 3 (October, 2007).


Special Issue: Remembering Baudrillard



Jean Baudrillard Est Mort1


Dr. Richard Prouty
(Chicago, Illinois, USA)

 

Jean Baudrillard, who died on Tuesday [March 6, 2007] in Paris at the age of 77, was a French intellectual in the most sinister meaning of that term. He was intoxicated by hastily concocted theories and drunk on incomprehensible explanations of world affairs (Robert Fulford).2

 

Naturally, if you provoke then you must expect some counter provocation and some negative reaction. The fact that it is so virulent is really quite interesting. It shows that in a way my negativity has passed on to them, subliminally perhaps, which is what I expected. I would say there has been a hyper-reaction to my work and from that point of view I have succeeded (Jean Baudrillard).3

 

            I'm back from a brief and largely sleepless paternity leave, and I've got some catching up to do. First, there's the most important world event of the past week: the death of Jean Baudrillard, yet another French post-structuralist philosopher with a short life span. Among those who've come to spit on Baudrillard's grave is Robert Fulford, who eulogized the philosopher by remarking, "He could make any subject more obscure just by briefly visiting it." Fulford dusts off the old complaints about post-structuralist French thinkers, adding his own flourish of a martial metaphor. He accuses Baudrillard of being a member of the "platoon" of "postmodernists, post-structuralists, post-Marxists and full-time professional obscurantists," whose thoughts were weapons of war. Fulford notes with a shudder, "by the early 1990s their thoughts had penetrated Western Canada, where you could hear professors talking the ugly and mostly incomprehensible language of French theory while students struggled pathetically to keep up".

            Actually, Baudrillard was perhaps the most easily summarized of all of the French post-structuralists. The notion of hyperreality was his trademark idea – he really only had one good idea in his career – and it's a lot easier to understand than, say, the concept of irony. Baudrillard gave solace to young academics in over their heads by allowing them to declare whatever cultural phenomenon they were studying didn't really exist, so it was okay if they had nothing original or insightful to say about it.  Even Baudrillard's most famous adherents, Andy and Larry Wachowski, oversimplified his concept of hyperreality. After a screening of The Matrix Baudrillard sighed and said references to his work “stemmed mostly from misunderstandings”.4

            Baudrillard started his career as an orthodox Marxist and ended up a loose cannon provocateur.  In The Spirit of Terrorism: And Requiem for the Twin Towers (2002) he declared, "It is we who have wanted it. . . . Terrorism is immoral, and it responds to a globalization that is itself immoral." He comes dangerously close to the pernicious idea that the people throwing themselves out of the burning towers somehow deserved their fate. Furthermore, objections to  the "immorality" of globalization are disingenuous coming from Baudrillard, an international intellectual and academic star, for "Jean Baudrillard" is also a product of globalization.

            However, Baudrillard will be remembered for giving us terms to better describe the world around us, most famously, and usefully, the term "simulacra." Like Walter Benjamin, Baudrillard was interested in the impact of reproductive technologies on Western culture, and like Benjamin, he was more sanguine than most European philosopher. Baudrillard had a thing for the United States, proclaiming, "America is the original version of modernity," giving a twist to Hegel's dictum that modernity measures itself by its own standards by showing how America's idealism is a heady blend of reality and unreality. As for the French, one of the original architects of modernity, he shrugged, “We are a copy with subtitles.”

            For all of his flashy post-modernisms, Baudrillard subscribed to the idea, dating back to Socrates, that received, uncritical opinion and the values based upon them were insubstantial and unreal without rigorous, and irritating, questioning. In 2005, at the height of the Bush administration's democracy crusade, he told the New York Times, "All of our values are simulated. What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom". This may explain at least some of the hostility of critics like Fulford, cursing the philosophers who dare to question our most cherished illusions. Baudrillard addressed this sort of criticism almost two decades ago:

...I have noticed that the critics, journalists and so on are almost all negative, they come up with negative criticisms. The official reaction of ‘thinking people’ or ‘cultured people’ is very often defensive, reticent – in short negative in one way or another. When it comes down to it, they can’t bear this exposure of surface-ness, of non-reference and so on – they just can’t bear it.5

 

Richard Prouty hold a Ph.D. in English and Film Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia. He is an independent scholar and writer living in Chicago.


© Richard Prouty


Endnotes


1 A slightly shorter version of this obituary originally appeared in One Way Street in March 2007. See: http://onewaystreet.typepad.com/one_way_street/2007/03/jean_baudrillar.html [The quotations cited in endnotes 2, 3, and 5 were added by the editors of IJBS].

 

2 Robert Fulford. “A French intellectual - in the worst sense of the term”. National Post (Canada) Saturday, March 10, 2007.

 

3 Jean Baudrillard. “Politics of Seduction: An interview by Suzanne Moore and Stephen Johnstone” in Marxism Today (January 1989:54-55).

 

4 See also “The Matrix Decoded – The Nouvel Observateur Interview with Jean Baudrillard” Translated by Gary Genosko and Adam Bryx, with an Introduction “Have you seen the war?” by Gary Genosko. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 1, Number 2 (July, 2004): www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol1_2/genosko.htm

 

5 Editor’s note: See Jean Baudrillard. “An Interview with Judith Williamson”. Block 15, 1989: 16-19.

 



© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)

[Main Page]   [Contents]   [Editorial Board]   [Submissions]